My name is Helen and I am the National Gallery Curatorial Trainee, supported by the Art Fund. I am currently involved in a project to research and rehang Birmingham Museums Trust’s fantastic collection of 17th century European art. The new galleries are set to open in just under two weeks, and in preparation for this we have re-photographed key pieces from our collection.
One of the star sculptures featured in the new display is ‘Judith with the Head of Holofernes’ by Agostino Cornacchini, made around 1722. The sculpture shows the figure of Judith holding the severed head of Holofernes, an Assyrian General. According to the biblical story, Holofernes’ army attacked Judith’s city so she entered the enemy camp, seduced Holofernes and killed him. The leaderless army fled and Judith was celebrated as a heroine. In this sculpture, Judith is shown triumphantly stepping over Holofernes’ lifeless body whilst her maid watches from the sidelines, awaiting her mistress’ orders and ready to take the head away in a sack.
The sculpture was one of a series of twelve bronzes commissioned by the Electress Palatine, Anna Maria Louisa Medici, and displayed in her personal apartments at the Palazzo Pitti. ‘Judith with the Head of Holofernes’ was one of the works displayed in the most important room, the audience chamber. Here, it would have been viewed by distinguished guests and visitors.
Amazingly Birmingham Museums Trust also owns an early design for the sculpture, illustrating how Cornacchini’s idea for the sculpture changed over time. He would later add the figure of the maid, thus showing the complete story from start to finish in a single snapshot.
As part of the new photography, we have created a rotating view of the sculpture, which allows us to take a closer look from every angle!
If you want to learn more about our incredible collection of Baroque art, check out the What's On for special events and talks.